Veronica Lawson rsm
23 February 2012
Lent comes around each year and presents us with its usual challenge to take stock of our lives, to see more clearly what is in our hearts, and to discover what might be calling us out of our comfort zones. It is a time for personal as well as group reflection, a time for entering into ‘the wilderness’ and grappling with the mysteries of life, as well as a time of preparation for Easter when we renew our baptismal vows and celebrate the greatest mysteries of our faith.
The gospel reading invites us to reflect on Jesus’ ‘40-day’ experience in ‘the wilderness’. Jesus is ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ and, like so many human beings before and since, is ‘led by the Spirit’ into the wilderness of life to be ‘tested’ there. [‘Tested’ is a more accurate translation of the Greek than ‘tempted’]. Forty is a symbolic number in Israel’s story: the great flood lasts 40 days and 40 nights; Moses spends 40 days and 40 nights on the mountain of God; Israel wanders for 40 years in the wilderness; King David reigns for 40 years; the prophet Elijah travels 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness on his way to the mountain of God. The wilderness is ever so real and at the same time symbolic. In Israel’s story, it is the place of testing for God’s people:
‘Remember the long way that your God has led you these 40 years in the wilderness… testing you to know what was in your heart’ (Deut 8:2).
Jesus is ‘with the wild beasts’. This terse statement recalls the prophet Isaiah’s vision of a future time of reconciliation and harmony when ‘the wolf would lie down with the lamb’. Jesus is the one who ushers in that age of peace, and God’s agents care for him: ‘angels minister to him’. In this context, Jesus announces the advent of God’s empire or reign. His message is to ‘repent’ or to ‘think beyond’ in a way that might turn our lives around in God’s direction and to ‘believe the good news’ he is set to proclaim in word and action. At a time of economic hardship, especially in the lives of those who have lost their homes and their means of survival in the wake of the global financial crisis, we look back to our richly symbolic tradition and forward to ways of bringing good news to those most deeply affected.